Magazine February 6, 2012, Issue

Centurion

(Aladin Abdel/Reuters)

(Matthew 2:16)

I’ve slaughtered babies all day long,
near Bethlehem. But why? If the wizards are right,
nothing can alter the Fates, and, if they’re wrong,
we’re killing without a reason. So now, at night,
I wash the dry and splattered blood away,
then fall to sleep, into a feverish hell,
hearing the wails of the mothers as they pray
for retribution and vengeance, hearing, as well,
my mother’s voice — who nursed me through the sweats
when I was born — whose melodious words now sing,
above the whirl of curses and alien threats:
“Whoever injures a child is a fiendish thing,”
whispering, like Rachel, not so long ago,
“and lower than the lowest …

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